Interview with Evan Dando by Tom Pinnock
From Uncut Magazine, March 2010
“I was out of my mind for a while there… and then it got worse” FROM Lemonheads to his solo work, Dando takes us through his career
Evan Dando has calmed down since his near-procession into narcotic oblivion in the mid-’90s, but he can still do old-school things to hotel rooms. Now aged 42, he’s inhabited this west London bolthole barely 36 hours, but it looks like Keith Moon has been here a week, creating a collage of uneaten room service, half-smoked cigarettes and semi-consumed beverages. “I miss my wife,” he sighs, not unreasonably… Originally published in Uncut’s March 2010 issue (Take 154).
Taang!, 1989. Produced by Tom Hamilton and Terry Katzman
Third album, after 1987’s Hate Your Friends and 1988’s Creator. Songwriting divided between Dando and bandmate Ben Deily; Dando’s rather better. Cover of Suzanne Vega’s “Luka” becomes cult hit.
EVAN DANDO: I recall getting the test pressing, and thinking: I quit. I hated it. We made it for zero dollars – we’d won most of the recording time in the WBCN Rock’n’Roll Rumble competition, and the rest of it was thrown together from different sessions. Now, I think it’s all right. Some of the best songs from early Lemonheads times are on there – “Come Back DA”, and “Die Right Now”… actually, no, that’s on Creator, which is a real disaster of a record. We weren’t getting on, no. It was the early days of dope for me and Ben – we were doing heroin, which didn’t make us not get along, but it made Ben and others a bit precious. He’d kick everyone out of the studio when he was doing vocals, which I could understand, ’cos when you’re on heroin you do feel a little precious. We did “Luka” because when we were on tour in ’87 it was on the radio all the time. And we just thought, fuck it, we’ll learn it, and play it. It was going to be on Creator – to the point that if you look carefully, you can see where the title is crossed out, and “Plaster Caster” is in its place. Though it’s a trashy cover, I thought it had a cool sound about it. Suzanne Vega loved it.
Atlantic, 1990. Produced by Paul Q Kolderie
Major label debut. Dando, now principal songwriter following Ben Deily’s departure, blossoms as tunesmith and lyricist. A cover of “Brass Buttons” announces a career-long fascination with Gram Parsons.
A lot of people thought it was a couple of records too soon for us to be on a major, and they were right – Lick had sold 30,000 in America, and Lovey only sold 13,000 when it came out. Lovey has some good songs. You can hear we’re being a little careful, and are a little inexperienced. And there were tensions, again. I played drums on three songs, and bass on about six. There were songs on which Jesse [Peretz] couldn’t get the bass quite right, and I love playing bass, so I scrubbed over them. That’s what broke the band up that time. But it’s not so bad. “Ballarat” is really good, and “Brass Buttons”. I first heard about Gram Parsons when a friend heard “Ride With Me”, and asked if I was really into him, because the song reminded him of Gram. I’d never heard of him, but he became my favourite artist. It was about the way he relaxed when he sang. And the back-story didn’t hurt – all the cool pictures, and the drugs. “Ride With Me” and “Stove” are where I started finding my own lyrical voice a little. “Stove” is a true story – I wrote it after getting my stove replaced. I really did feel sadness for an inanimate object.
IT’S A SHAME ABOUT RAY
Atlantic, 1992. Produced by The Robb Brothers
Invigorated by a long recuperation in Australia, Dando assembles his best collection of songs. Somewhat surreal crossover success ensues. People magazine declares him one of its “50 Most Beautiful People”.
We first went to Australia on tour with Lovey. I didn’t know anything about it, and didn’t want to go, but I fell in love with it, and I went back after we’d finished in Europe. I’d started doing more drugs, and I met Nic [Dalton, of The Plunderers] and Tom [Morgan, of Smudge], and that made me really excited about music. And you could get clean needles – you’d just call up and they’d throw ’em over your fence. I was impressed with the way they dealt with that, although it had probably the wrong effect on me – I thought, OK, I can do that now, because I’m not endangering myself, apart from the drugs. I was more into speed at this point. Luckily, I didn’t get into the dope down there, because it’s way too good. I mean, you can have an accident with that stuff.
Me and Tom would just stay up all the time and try and write songs. We were really compatible people, really had a blast together. We were able to have impassioned talks about everything from real heavy things to The Love Boat. We could talk about The Love Boat for hours. He’s a wry, intelligent, funny guy. Things didn’t really kick in until “Mrs Robinson”. We were on tour, and we recorded it, and people talked about putting it out as a single, and we were all like “No,” but we weren’t really able to make a case against it. And luckily, people then bought the album. I treated the whole [fame] thing like the joke it is, but that can be dangerous. When you take the piss, people might think you’re being serious, and they’ll think you’re a jerk. You can get hung up on yourself, when you’re popular or famous, and it is a little annoying to observe. I was never a paranoid person, but that made me paranoid. I kept thinking, this is all too easy, and they’re gonna get me back eventually. The focus on my looks around that time… I don’t know where the fuck that came from. Maybe if I hadn’t done those pictures with Bruce Weber… but you’re not gonna say no to the cover of Interview magazine if you’re trying to sell your record. Everyone’s looking for someone to point to and say, “Aren’t they great?”, and they happened to pick on me for a second. I dunno. It’s a good record. It has a cohesiveness we’d never had before.
COME ON FEEL THE LEMONHEADS
Atlantic, 1993. Produced by The Robb Brothers
Half-formed noodlings rub shoulders with mighty pop moments. The Australian connections do brilliantly: Robyn St Clare (ex-Hummingbirds) contributes “Into Your Arms”, Tom Morgan co-writes eight tracks.
I know. It’s almost a Smudge record. Every time we stopped touring, I’d go to Australia. I got rid of my apartment – I didn’t have a home for about three years. I’d either be on tour or in Australia. We made that album while we were on tour. I should have taken a break. We’d gone from being a bar band to a proper band in half a year. It was that classic thing of people wanting to get as much out of you as possible. I mean, they knew what I was doing, and they thought I might pop off – we had people coming down to the studio saying, get this done, because this guy might die. I never thought that was going to happen. I know nobody ever thinks it’s going to happen, but I was always careful with drugs. Real abuse is when you overdo it, because that’s not respecting the drug. It’s not a very serious record. There are a lot of experiments that are maybe a bit frivolous. Too happy, not quite dark enough in some ways. The title is about Slade, yeah. I had that Sladest greatest hits in high school, and I just thought they were one of the coolest bands!
CAR BUTTON CLOTH
Atlantic, 1996. Produced by Bryce Goggin
Dando cuts an increasingly wretched figure, hanging around Oasis wearing a jacket previously owned by the late Kurt Cobain. The album itself is curiously whimsical and chipper.
It got pretty bad. The Oasis part was harmless, and fun, and I don’t know why everyone was bothered by it so much. The jacket… that was bad. Courtney gave it to me, and I liked it, and I wore it a bit, and then I gave it back to her. But I was definitely out of my mind for a while there, and then it got worse. I flew down to Sydney, and banged a bunch of speed, and stayed up. The next night we did E, the next night some acid… and that’s when I lost my mind. By the time we made the album, I’d chilled out. I was drinking way too much, which is worse. Car Button Cloth is a booze album. We recorded it in Woodstock. It was made with no concessions to making a popular record, but I’m not naturally an uncommercial writer, I guess. I wrote “If I Could Talk I’d Tell You” with Eugene Kelly from The Vaselines. I’d always wanted to do “Knoxville Girl”, so I was pleased to get that done – I love The Louvin Brothers. But by 1997, I just felt like there wasn’t really a place for us. I wasn’t hungry any more. I had more money than I knew what to do with, so I was like, “Fuck it!”
BABY I’M BORED
Setanta, 2003. Produced by Jon Brion
Seven-year silence broken by terrific solo debut. Cover star a possible clue as to creator’s newfound equanimity – English model Elizabeth Moses, now aka Mrs Dando.
I’d been through the wringer. I just did it so hard for so long that I knew I needed a long break. I did all the things I hadn’t done – skiing, surfing, stuff like that. I was still trying to write songs, but I was having a real tough time. I couldn’t call it a Lemonheads record. There were too many people from other bands on it – Calexico, Come, Spacehog. And Ben Lee [who’d first gained attention as the teenage writer of Dando homage “I Wish I Was Him”]. What happened was that he’d get me over to his flat and say, “Come on, Evan, let’s write a song, just for fun.” He was a good coach. He wrote “All My Life” just for me. I thought it was a catchy song. I didn’t think too much about the lyrics. I was just happy to be back in the game. I never really stopped drugs completely. I stopped drinking in 2001 for four years, because that was a problem. I’m not gonna say no to a line at a wedding, or something, but it’s not my whole life any more. That’s my wife on the cover, yeah. She changed everything for me. Falling in love, it’s pretty cool.
Vagrant, 2006. Produced by Bill Stevenson and Evan Dando
A shockingly good set was lent zesty life by a stellar lineup, including J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr, Garth Hudson from The Band and the rhythm section from The Descendents.
I heard about a Brazilian festival where all these young bands were doing Lemonheads songs. They made a whole day of it. I didn’t go, but that made me think there was enough interest out there for us to do another Lemonheads record. And the songs I was writing were faster, and sounded like Lemonheads songs. I ended up thinking that it was the Lemonheads record that sounded like all the other Lemonheads records should have sounded. I mean, it’s just got the best players on it. It was like The Lemonheads on steroids, and it was really great fun. I wanted it to sound like part of The Lemonheads catalogue, but I wasn’t nervous about how it would be received. I’ve gotten past all that stuff. There was a time I’d bite my nails, but now I know I’ve got something going that I can sustain.
The End Records, 2009. Produced by Gibby Haynes
An eclectic collection of cover versions, reinterpreting GG Allin, Christina Aguilera, Gram Parsons, Sam Gopal, among others. Guests include The Only Ones’ John Perry, Kate Moss and Liv Tyler.
I bought this painting, the one on the cover, and that’s what gave me the idea. I’m not quite done with my next proper record, which will probably be another solo album. And I bought the painting, by Mark Dagley, and I wanted to put it into the art budget rather than just buy a painting that expensive to put on my wall. So I asked Gibby [Haynes, Butthole Surfers] if he’d produce a covers album, and he said yes. There are untouchables – the Velvets, The Stooges, The Beatles, the Stones, Al Green. I never do songs that are my absolute favourites. You don’t want to mess with the recordings. Leonard Cohen is verging on that status, but with Liv I thought it would sound different enough, so that was fair. There were some that didn’t quite make it. “Zero Willpower”, by Dan Penn – we tried to do that and it didn’t really come together. “How Can We Hang Onto A Dream?” by Tim Hardin, as well. But I think that’s coming out as, uh, an e-side, or something.